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From minding your Ps and Qs to wondering why X should mark the spot, Alphabetical is a book for everyone who loves words and language. Whether it’s how letters are arranged on keyboards or Viking runes, textspeak or zip codes, this book will change the way you think about letters for ever.

How on Earth did we fix upon our twenty-six letters, what do they really mean, and how did we come to write them down in the first place? Michael Rosen takes you on an unforgettable adventure through the history of the alphabet in twenty-six vivid chapters, fizzing with personal anecdotes and fascinating facts. Starting with the mysterious Phoenicians and how sounds first came to be written down, he races on to show how nonsense poems work, pins down the strange story of OK, traces our seven lost letters and tackles the tyranny of spelling, among many, many other things.

His heroes of the alphabet range from Edward Lear to Phyllis Pearsall (the inventor of the A-Z), and from the two scribes of Beowulf to rappers. Each chapter takes on a different subject – codes, umlauts or the writing of dictionaries. Rosen’s enthusiasm for letters positively leaps off the page, whether it’s the story of his life told through the typewriters he’s owned or a chapter on jokes written in a string of gags and word games.

So if you ever wondered why Hawaiian only has a thirteen-letter alphabet or how exactly to write down the sound of a wild raspberry, read on . . .

Reviews

This is a fascinating read and great gift for Christmas
Bookseller
An enjoyable history of the alphabet . . . wonderfully eclectic
The Times
A fascinating journey . . . substantial and engaging
Guardian
Forget party crackers - when you settle down to the turkey and trimmings this year simply make sure you have this book to hand. There's even a chapter devoted to family friendly alphabet games: perfect for playing after the Queen's been on. That letters can and should be fun, not just functional, is one of the main messages of this book
Sunday Telegraph
The perfect book for anyone who relishes the intricacies of language and letters . . . [Rosen] reveals a gift for seamlessly meshing hard information, personal anecdote, jokes and puzzles with educational, cultural and linguistic questions and wry, pointed, observations . . . There are delights in this book for all ages
Australian
Thinking about the alphabet is like walking along the pavement and finding a Roman villa hidden beneath your feet. If you turn an A upside down you'll see the Phoenician symbol for an ox's head. The triangle is the head and has two horns sticking out . . . [Rosen] is a man of letters . . . and the alphabet just as brilliant an invention as the wheel
Metro
This is a great book for word nerds . . . The tone is playful, the narrative anecdotal. Each chapter explores a different subject - rhyme, jokes, qwerty, ciphers and fonts . . . and veers off on many fascinating tangents
Australian Morning Herald
[Michael Rosen] gives each letter a neat CV . . . enjoyable
The Times
[Michael Rosen's] beguiling journey through the alphabet will entrance anyone interested in the quirks of language and its history . . . Rosen has written a charming and thought-provoking book about what written language represents, how we use it, and the joys and mysteries therein. His humor and obvious love for his subject are winning elements
Publishers Weekly